Interchange section

You know how I sometimes go into something completely unrelated to the topic before actually getting into the topic?

I’m going to do that again.

The power in my house went out last night and I completely blew off my first appointment (I live by my alarm clocks…that’s right clocks-plural) and as I rushed into the bathroom to take a shower (so as not to miss my second appointment) I stepped in cat poop. Apparently I closed off access to the litter before going to bed last night. If you know anything about cat poop then you are aware that it is probably the most horrible smell ever. At least he pooped in the bathroom.

Okay to resolutions. I’m a fan of resolutions and I know most of them are not kept with but at the very least they can act as reminders of what we would like to change.

There are many reasons why resolutions or the commitments that we make to ourselves to change at any point during the year sometimes fall through; today we’re going to look at one big barrier – motivation. Motivation is a finicky thing – it comes and it goes; the thing that helps it one day can end up hurting it the next. There are a few things you may want to keep in mind when making a commitment to change and seeing it through.

Reasonable Accountability

Some folks have a hard time taking responsibility for their actions and life can provide us with ample opportunities to bail out of our commitments. Depression, anxiety, change in routine, bad parents, trauma, finances….all of these things can be reasons why the change is harder but they do not have to act as excuses to give up.  We can acknowledge that these hurdles make the journey harder but hurdles are not impenetrable and unlike the Olympics, there really aren’t any hard and fast rules as to how they should be overcome – as long as you don’t damage yourself or others in the process .

Others take on too much responsibility – they feel that everything should be in their control and create unnecessary obstacles to change by trying to take on what isn’t in their power to change.  These are usually the same folks that feel that they should be able to do everything on their own.

Being accountable is different than blaming yourself, beating yourself up or figuring everything out on your own – it simply means;

(1) Being aware of what created and continues to perpetuates the problem.

(2) Being honest with yourself about what happens when you get off track so you can avoid making the same mistakes.

(3) Getting additional support when needed.

We all have things we need to fix so there is no shame in asking someone for help.  Needing help doesn’t make you a failure or irresponsible, if that were true anyone who takes their car to a mechanic or buys produce from the grocer would fit that label.

All or Nothing Thinking

Another motivation trap is all or nothing thinking.  Sometimes when we lapse into an old behavior it’s very easy to catch the “well I already screwed up today so I might as well go all the way” syndrome.  This way of thinking assumes that our attempt at change is going to be linear and perfect when most attempts at significant change are incremental, imperfect and messy.  I’ve struggled with weight my entire life and I know this is probably my biggest trap.  There have been times where I’ve been in phenomenal shape and other times when I’ve been a complete mess.  Currently, I’m a bit of a mess. I have to remind myself that walking away from a day where I had one bad thing to eat instead of eating bad most of the time and being unaware of what I eat is a victory because it’s better than where I was. For me, not gaining weight is as important and substantial as losing it. In order for me to be successful I have to think that way because it’s true; the evidence of my experience says so. Not thinking that way has really bad consequences because it allows me to lie myself into bad behaviors.

Process Not Outcome

Goals are important but they can cause us to be impatient; it’s better to focus on strategy, on what you feel you need to do in order to get where you want to be.  If you decided to drive somewhere you’ve never been and only focus on the end point of the map instead of the red line leading up to it, you’re eventually going to get lost, frustrated and give up.  Instead, think of the change process as more of a long road trip.  Make each part of the journey enjoyable – figure out ways to make the journey entertaining; focus less on deprivation and more on what you can add to the trip so it feels less onerous.

For example, if your goal is to be more financially responsible avoid thinking about the millions of dollars you want to save up in the bank and focus your efforts more on the benefits of frugality. Think of simple ways to take vacations; figure out what you needed from the things you used to buy and look for cheaper substitutes or alternatives. Seek to enjoy simplicity vs. focusing on the fact that you’re not where you want to be and it’s already been five minutes.

Goals are end points we can look at periodically to determine whether how we’re going about the change is effective and whether the goals we originally set out for ourselves make sense.

Embrace Failure

One motivation killer is our negative interpretations of failure and I’m really not afraid of using that word. I’ve failed at a lot of things I’ve tried and I succeeded at a good number of them as a result of the failure.   A big part of keeping motivation up is rethinking what failure means and understanding that failure is a necessary part of making something better; it’s not something to be ashamed of – it is a built in aspect of anything that’s worth doing.  Failure means you’re trying, that you’re not giving up – in order to fail you have to be a risk taker and no one ever became awesome by avoiding risk.   Folks who are averse to risk tend to personalize not meeting goals ; they interpret anything less than what they set out to do as  evidence of their character.  History is full of folks who have been revered after not only failing once but multiple times; in fact many of them failed at the very last thing they were famous for (Napoleon as an example). People don’t really think about failure in considering a person’s character; we take a look at the big picture, adherence to reasonable virtue and the effort made in pursuit of a goal.

Make Not Changing Less Comfortable

Change can be uncomfortable for two reasons. The first, which we have been talking about, is the work involved with the change. The other side of the coin is the reward we get by not changing.  Going to the gym can feel uncomfortable because of the effort involved with getting there, feeling out of place among all the super humans and because if we don’t go it means more time watching Star Trek episodes while eating Little Debbie Snack Cakes. Increasing and sustaining motivation may mean re-working and re-balancing wants and needs while changing the kinds of rewards you give yourself so that they reinforce the change, not the problem. So….

Not going to the gym, eating Little Debbie Snack Cakes and watching Star Trek

can turn into

Going to the Gym and then  grabbing a cup of coffee at Barnes and Noble while reading a Sci-Fi magazine, comic or book

Make Change a Part of Your Life …. Not the Whole Thing

Sometimes when we start gaining success we start planning our lives completely around avoiding the triggers that were problematic in the first place in ways that are unreasonable.  We go to the other extreme in trying to follow the map – we abandon the little pit stops that made the journey tolerable and decide to try to get there non-stop since we have momentum.  More often than not this actually works if timed right but it’s not sustainable.  You’ll get to your goal quicker but keeping at it with the same intensity leads to extremes and you’ll either burn out and go back to old patterns because you haven’t really integrated the change or you’ll take the change to an extreme that defeats the original purpose – improved quality of life.  When considering change, you want to be clear on short term strategies (things you know you can’t do forever but you need to do now) and long term strategies (things you’ll always have to do and figure out a way to live with comfortably).

Using myself as an example, sugar is a real killer for me. Put a sugar cube in my mouth and I gain 30 pounds and sleep on the couch the whole week.  I have achieved huge success with no carb diets but I never reached a way to eat well sustainably. Once I reached my goal weight I started slipping and gained everything back because my entire plan was based on short term strategies.  My exercise routines and meals were not enjoyable because they weren’t varied, too time consuming. Eventually I gave it up altogether and found myself back where I started.

Avoid Defining Yourself by the Thing You Want to Change

If career advancement is your goal, walking around all day telling yourself what a crappy employee you are isn’t going to help.  You may not have been employee of the month 30 times in a row like your co-worker Brad (it’s always some guy named Brad) but that doesn’t mean you were bad at your job or everything you did was miserable.  You are also more than your job, you may be a great parent, wife, volunteer or masked crusader who uses the cover of darkness and a mysterious identity to help lost cats find their homes.

Keeping a balanced view of yourself makes the journey more tolerable and keeps the distortions that lead to relapse at bay.  If your attention is constantly on what you believe to be the worst of you, then you may not feel you’re worth the work that’s needed to change. You may also feel deprived during the change process as you’re constantly focused on the thing you don’t have.

So obviously my New Years resolution is to lose weight; I encourage you to figure out what change you want to make and commit to it – we’ll screw it up together along the way but we may get there.  Regardless, we’ll be the better for trying.

A good first step in beating procrastination…

is a calendar.  When I say calendar I really mean planner.  I use “calendar” because I wondered if some people would take the word “planner” to mean hiring someone who will plan for them.  I know it sounds ridiculous but that was the 10 minute debate that went on in my head.  I mean, this is about procrastination, isn’t it?

Procrastination is something we all joke about but it can be a crippling feature of depression and anxiety.  It can affect finances, relationships, careers and work to reinforce the lack of control and failure many with mental health issues already struggle with.

Folks who consistently procrastinate can go from thinking that a task will take a lot less time than is actually needed (leads to pushing the task away to do something more desirable) to the reality that they do not have enough time once they feel they have no choice but to work on it (leads to giving up as the task, at that point, seems impossible).

A calendar can help you feel in control of your life and is a reminder that time is a finite resource.  Many people who struggle with procrastination anticipate that a calendar will be a prison of sorts and nothing can be further from the truth.  Many clients who work on procrastination as part of their treatment have this fear but when they begin to use a calendar they actually feel liberated. The things they need to do and the time they have available begins to make sense.

A calendar can help you implement many of the strategies that are used to defeat procrastination.

Partializing tasks- The 13 hour marathon you think you’re going to do the day before your term paper needs to be in, is probably not realistic. The good news is you can still make time to beat Bioshock  (for the 300th time) and get that paper done.   You see, beating Bioshock (for the 300th time) and getting your paper done are not mutually exclusive goals. A calendar allows you to schedule one big project in small bite size pieces over a longer period of time.  This allows you to still indulge in the distractions while doing what is necessary.

By partializing tasks in a calendar, the cost/benefit analysis of actually doing the task shifts.  The cost seems/feels less (1 hour vs. 13 hours), so even if the benefit remains constant you can close the gap when it comes to motivation and expectancy. You are creating a greater value to the thing that needs to get done while reducing the burden of trying to get it done all at once.

Prioritizing- A calendar is essentially a prioritized to do list; the time frame is the value you are assigning to the task.  It is difficult to manage all of our priorities in our head, particularly if we live and work in environments that tend to present with a high demand for flexibility.  Procrastinators can view a calendar like a contract; once it’s on paper there is no going back.  Thinking about it in this way defeats the purpose of a calendar; a calendar is nothing more than a realistic account of what’s important.  Sometimes our priorities change and our calendars can change with them.  A calendar doesn’t dictate how you should live your life; it’s a tool you can use to take control of it.

Boundaries- If a widget isn’t claimed, the next person who wants it can take it.  The same can be said about time that is not accounted for. Many times we make commitments or set ourselves up with obligations we really don’t have time for. A calendar makes it very easy to understand what your limitations are while providing a very comfortable way to say no.  If it’s in your calendar the time is already taken.  The onus is no longer on you to explain why you can’t do something.  It’s now up to the other person to provide you with a reason why you should re-prioritize; something many people won’t bother with because they don’t want to seem pushy.

A calendar can help in other ways.  It can help the person whose procrastination is driven by guilt and hopelessness, be able to see a realistic pathway to getting the things that need to get done accomplished.  It can also help the person who feels their life is constantly about work and bills see that connecting with friends and family is something that can realistically fit into their lives.

I typically recommend that clients purchase a daily calendar that breaks a day up into 15 minute increments or a web-based solution like Google.  I like web based calendars because re-occuring appointments are a breeze and they are accessible by phone.  Don’t try to sit down and schedule your whole life.  If you go into it with that goal, you probably know what’s bound to happen.  Shoot for scheduling your re-occurring commitments for the month first and then flesh out the next two weeks.  Then just add appointments and tasks a little at a time each day until you’re caught up.